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Saturday, 18 February 2012

On Staring

I have always tended to look at things quite hard. Not necessarily the obvious things worthy of being looked at, such as the Grand Canyon or an amazing birthday cake or tiny new-born rabbits. I am fortunate enough to have seen all of these, but I find everything somehow significant.
As a result, I am not very quick on the uptake, my mind always distracted and drifting. Acquaintances complain that I don't see them in shops, even when they wave madly at me. And when I'm in the car, apparently I do not return the greetings people give me as they drive past.
I have always been this way inclined, always in a daydream, always finding a different angle from which to consider something or making up stories in my head. As a student, I was teased for being very quiet throughout a picnic to celebrate the end of exams and then suddenly saying, "I wonder what an ant thinks?"
I had been watching ants crawling through long grass, stumbling and struggling and never giving up, and I am ashamed to admit I found this more intriguing than the cider-sodden conversation around me.
Well, now I know why I am like this. According to the amazing writer, Flannery O'Connor:

'...there is a certain grain of stupidity that the writer of fiction can hardly do without, and this is the quality of having to stare, of not getting the point at once.'

She feels that writers watch constantly for the amazing magic within everyday things. This is the imagination at work.
Writers are always writing, even when they are at work, asleep or socialising. Our eyes are open all the time, despite everyone I know thinking the exact opposite of me!
We are letting in ideas, looking for the sense of all that we observe. We open ourselves to the world and, because it's instinctive, we never take a day off. And that is a comforting thought. If our lives become busy and sometimes don't allow for much actual writing-time, we are nevertheless still at work on it, storing the magic for later.


  1. What a brilliant post and a great quote, Joanna! How I identify with this. So many times I am accused of not listening or ignoring people. And I've lost count of how many times I've agreed to something without even knowing I've done it. You should not be ashamed of finding the ants interesting. Sometimes people speak to me and I stare at them and it takes a while for their words to sink in - it's what makes us what we are x

  2. Thank you very much, Teresa. I do agree that we should be proud of the way we are.
    Although we must often seem a million miles away to a lot of people, I'm sure that those who really matter understand that this is how we are.

  3. Oh yes, Teresa, I meant to add that I'm always being told I've agreed to things too!
    Once, a rather lonely woman I worked with said I'd agreed to spend Christmas Day with her. I only found this out from other colleagues who seemed surprised I was abandoning my husband on Christmas Day. I had absolutely no recollection of this and had to pluck up the courage to tell her she was mistaken. She didn't look very pleased with me at all and I felt dreadful. I'll never know how I managed to give her the wrong impression!

  4. Oh dear, Joanna - how awkward, but I do sympathise. It's as if part of us is away with the fairies and the other part carries on and we have no idea what it gets up to!!

  5. It's really a wonderful gift to be able to come at things from a different angle. I could sit and stare at things all day. I do sometimes wonder if I'm just using it as an excuse for laziness! But after I've stared for a while I often have the sense of arriving at something, however vague the idea may be. And then through writing, writing, writing, I figure out the point of whatever it was that so captured my attention. That probably sounds very woolly and daft to anyone who doesn't write, but I think you will probably understand what I mean!

  6. Thank you, Joanne. And yes, I truly do understand this sense of arrival. That's a marvellous way of describing it.
    I'm sure it's not laziness. I don't think we can help it at all. As Teresa says, it is who we are.
    I'm very glad I've discovered writing, because it does clarify, perhaps even justify, my somewhat pre-occupied, 'other-world' behaviour.
    You are so right that it is a wonderful gift. Absolute magic. All of us writers are very lucky people.

  7. Great post, Joanna - it's the staring and processing the onbservation that obviously makes you the excellent writer you are! Wish non-writers understood this need.

  8. I've passed on the Kreativ Blogger award to you, Joanna, if you would like it x

  9. Thank you, Rosemary, you're very kind.
    It would sometimes be very useful if non-writers did understand the way we are.

  10. Thank you, Teresa, that's lovely! I'm very chuffed indeed!